November 2009 Issue
Skip Holms Bear: Affordable Warbird
Even those who can afford real warbirds donít fly them much. The Bear 360 addresses that in an affordable package that any Walter Mitty can actually handle.
If money were no object and you could afford a hangar full of airplanes, would one of them be a warbird, say a P-51 or an F4U Corsair? Probably. Just as likely, the airplane would sit in the hangar, kept airworthy by an expert mechanic, but rarely exercised. Why is that? Itís one of the natural laws of vintage aircraft ownership and also one of the reasons the airplane pictured aboveóthe Bear 360ówas designed and built. The Bear is, as far as weíre able to determine, a unique animal indeed: a newly manufactured military-feel aircraft built by a foreign industrial power, formerly a Cold War enemy. Eastern bloc imports like the L-39 and the Yak trainers have similar antecedents, but they arenít new and they arenít purpose-built to be high-performance fly-for-fun airplanes, which the Bear is. We stumbled upon this airplane at EAA AirVenture this year vaguely thinking we had seen it before (we had), but now the company thatís marketing the airplane is taking orders for U.S. deliveries. Interestingly, as new airplanes go, itís not especially expensive and as warbirds go, itís a mere pittance. At a distance, the Bear looks not unlike its namesake, the Grumman Bearcat, a late World War II Navy fighter thatís a relative rarity on the warbird circuit, compared to the P-51, at least. The design springs from famed air racer and combat pilot Skip Holm, who paired with Russian designer Sergey Yakovlev to build a modern, robust military-like aircraft, but with operational costs that donít envision 60 GPH fuel burns and $100,000 engine overhauls.
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